This listing expired on June 22, 2014. Please contact for any updated information.
Thornton Abbey Mass Grave and Human Osteology Field School

Location: Thornton Curtis, , United Kingdom

June 23, 2014 to July 4, 2014

Application Deadline: 
Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Program Type

Field school

RPA certified



University of Sheffield

Project Director:

Dr. Diana Swales, and Dr. Hugh Willmott

Project Description

Since 2010 the University of Sheffield has organised the successful Thornton Abbey Medieval & Monastic Field School (also running again July 6- August 1st 2014). In 2013 the remains of a large medieval mass grave were uncovered, which has been radiocarbon dated to the 14th century, the period when the Black Death swept across England. During the course of the excavation over fifty individuals were identified and excavated, although at least one third of the grave lay outside of the trench.

In 2014 we shall be returning to finish the excavation of the mass grave and are offering participants the opportunity to join in a specialist field school focussing on the burials. Students will be responsible for the actual excavation of the skeletons under the expert guidance of Dr Diana Swales, an experienced osteoarchaeologist from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield. As well as excavation of the human remains, participants will receive instruction in the lifting, cleaning and packaging of the bones.

Medieval mass graves are extremely rare in the UK, and only two other sites definitively associated with the Black Death, both from London, have thus far be excavated. Therefore this field school offers a truly unique opportunity to become involved in an internationally important research project. Places will be strictly limited to ten and allocated on a first-come first served basis.

Period(s) of Occupation: Late Medieval, 14th century AD

Human Osteology Field School, Medieval Mass Grave, Black Death

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: Two Weeks. Work takes place between Monday and Fridays and volunteers will have the weekend (June 28-29) off to spend as they please.

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 

Room and Board Arrangements

Private accommodation is provided in a local country pub, and a packed lunch will be provided by the project. Volunteers are responsible for their own evening meals, but the pub sells a range of hot and cold food, and the village shop (with an ATM) also sells basic supplies. Rooms are provided for the whole period June, 23, 2014 – July 4, 2014, including the days off. Volunteers will be picked up and driven to site and dropped back at the pub afterwards. A dedicated project manager will stay with the volunteers, undertake transportation and be available 24 hours a day to assist in any matter.

£2,000 (approx. $3,300 USD)

Academic Credit

Number of credits offered 0 No credits offered, although a full certificate of participation can be issued in lieu of formal credit


Contact Information
Dr Hugh Willmott
Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, Northgate House, West Street
United Kingdom
S1 4ET
Recommended Bibliography: 

Grainger, I. et al. 2008. The Black Death Cemetery, East Smithfield, London. London: Museum of London Archaeology Service Monograph 43.

Horrox, R. 1994. The Black Death. New York St Martin’s Press.

Roberts, C. 2009. Human Remains in Archaeology: a Handbook. Council for British Archaeology Practical Handbook No. 19.

Roberts, C. & Cox, M. 2003. Health and Disease in Britain. From Prehistory to the Present Day. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. (especially Chapter 5).